Just because you’re buying a turnkey system doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do anything. Uneducated consumers should expect unpleasant surprises. When it was time to upgrade molding automation at captive molder and moldmaker Intralox, Jim Beitzel knew what he had to do—his homework.
Beitzel is lead automation engineer at Intralox. To make sure he knew exactly what he wanted, he set out to write a detailed book on robotics standards, which was completed even before he selected a turnkey systems supplier for the project.
Intralox’s original cells are yesterday’s news, Beitzel says. They are inflexible manufacturing cells. Parts molded in huge stack tools are handed off by the parts removal robot to another robot in a huge, stationary, beside-the-press station for collating and boxing. All downstream automation is controlled by discrete PLCs. The molding machine, its robot, the other robot, and the downstream automation all operate incommunicado. It is a nightmare when it comes time to program startups, because of the I/O points involved. And Beitzel is one of only a few people at Intralox who knows how to get them running.
Intralox has neither time nor space to waste. The company molds and assembles a wide variety of modular plastic conveyor belts for different global markets, including injection molded parts handling.
Setting the Standard
Beitzel tells us he and his group took pains to write the robotics standards because if you don’t make the investment in what you really need up front, it will wind up costing you more in retrofits later on. The standards were originally developed for cells to produce the company’s Series 800 belts used in the meat processing industry, the same links that were produced by the original cells.
He started at NPE ’97 and compared the specs he gathered to the standards he’d begun developing. He narrowed the list. Then he personally visited the finalists to determine where they were in the life cycles of their products, why they offered some features and not others, and what they would have to change in their products to meet the standards.
Regarding the standards themselves, Beitzel says most of them involved things that Intralox did not want. The company had learned from its mistakes. Still, there were a few things they definitely wanted, including the following items:
- One robot per cell, fully integrated with the press and the collating/boxing automation.
- Easily programmable three-axis traversing servo robots with extra I/O boards.
- All automation auxiliaries controlled by the parts-removal robot controller.
- Standard molding machine interfaces.
- Full compliance with the SPI Communications Protocol.
- Portable collating/boxing stations that could be used with other presses.
- Parts conveyors with Intralox belts.
Intralox selected Wittmann Robot & Automation Systems. Beitzel says the flexibility, power, and ease-of-use of Wittmann’s controllers was a major selling point. Intralox also selected Krauss-Maffei presses for the project. Presently, 27 of its 57 molding machines (125 to 600 tons) are KMs, and it plans to buy at least 40 more presses during its next expansion.
Beitzel adds another reason why Intralox and Wittmann clicked—they both are engineering-driven companies. Price was never mentioned in initial discussions with Wittmann or any of the other finalists. Once engineering handed over its standards, purchasing agents at Intralox had to deal with only the soft-cost issues. They then knew what to buy, from whom, and for how much.
The purchasing department then went to work hammering out long-term contracts, volume discounts, and periodic vendor service and quality evaluations.
The only surprises Beitzel says he experienced after the systems were installed was that they were more elegant and even a little smaller than he had anticipated. Intralox’s technicians installed them. Wittmann service came in, turned them on, and did final alignments. The systems were running within two days and are still running flawlessly today.
The robotics standards eventually will be adapted and applied to the company’s entire molding operation.
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Wittmann Robot & Automation Systems Inc.